Blood Rage (1987)

Although I’m far from the first person to have noticed this (most slasher movie review sites worth the name have talked about it) we may have happened upon a real underappreciated gem of the genre, with proper actors in it and an interesting plot! That it was directed by a guy who only made one other movie – 1977’s “Scalpel” – and written by a guy whose main credits are the two “Zapped!” movies, back when Scott Baio got his own starring vehicles, makes it even more unusual.

“Blood Rage” was released in 1983, heavily edited under the title “Nightmare At Shadow Woods” and not released uncut til a VHS tape in 1987. It stars Louise Lasser, former wife of Woody Allen and co-star of a bunch of his early movies, and she and director John Grissmer argued to such an extent that he quit halfway through and had to be tempted back by the producer – oh, and the producer plays the part of the psychiatrist because the actor they hired for the part never bothered showing up.

It’s also notable-ish for being the screen debut of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam and low-budget horror legend in his own right. He popped up very briefly in “The Evil Dead” but this is the first time you see his actual face, as a guy who sells condoms to another guy at a drive-in in 1974. For that is where the movie starts, with Louise Lasser, 44 years old at the time of filming, out on a date with her twin ten-year-old sons asleep in the back of the car. This is the first hint that we’re not just in typical low-budget slasher territory – why is Louise Lasser starring in this? Why did she think it’d be a good idea to save the few dollars on a babysitter while she tried to have sex with some young stud in the car at a drive-in? Is the father still around?

The kids, thought to be asleep, sneak out when the couple up front are in flagrante, and decide to explore the drive-in. Well, that’s not strictly true. Terry finds an axe and the first available car with a naked couple having sex in it, then brutally murders the guy (and boy oh boy, does this movie have a lot of gore in it). So far, so typical, but then he smears blood all over brother Todd’s face, forces the axe into his hand and pretends Todd did it.

From here things leap forward ten years, with Lasser, now looking close to the age she’s playing, visiting a psychiatrist. Todd, having been locked up this entire time, is finally emerging from his catatonic state, and is remembering he didn’t do it. Maddy (Lasser) freaks out at this information, treating her son as if he was still ten years old. Despite one thinking all this activity would increase surveillance on Todd, he’s able to escape with no problems soon after all this happens.

Terry, on the other hand, finds this out and the same switch that went off when he was ten (although not, apparently, at any point in the intervening decade) goes off again and he starts killing people – initially, it’s sort of vaguely about sex, then he really gets into it and slaughters pretty much everyone in his path. The psychiatrist, for example, is hacked in two while walking through the woods, trying to find Todd, which is such a strange visual that I have to assume it was done as a gag on the way slasher victims usually meet their fates. Also, for fun, look at the hairline on Todd and Terry (played by the same actor, Mark Soper, in an excellent pair of unhinged performances) and see if you think he’s 18 years old.

So, there’s a ton of murder in this movie, and it shows you one, with lots of gory detail, every few minutes. Suck it, previous movie in this review series! (Seriously, though, both this and “Blood Frenzy” feature psychiatrists who get way too involved with murderers, which is an odd coincidence).

But there’s not just murder, there’s some delightful and unusual touches to ponder on while the action rolls along. First up is Maddy’s boyfriend, a wealthy guy who seems to genuinely love her (perhaps it’s the guy from the car ten years previously, it’s never really mentioned). He goes home for the evening after the couple announce their engagement to Terry and is listening to a heavily religious biblical station, which offers to read out scripture for anyone who phones in. He’s murdered by Todd quite early on but not discovered til near the end, and every time we cut to him the radio station is sort of commentating on the action with an appropriate piece of the Bible. It’s weird and fun and I like it.

Next up is Louise Lasser. I’ve no idea how much freedom she had over her own characterisation, but I’m guessing it was a lot, as she’s full on odd. One scene, apropos of nothing, has her sat open-legged on the floor of her kitchen, stuffing food into her mouth with a vacant look in her eyes. She also constantly mistakes which son is which, but appears to have a sexual interest in them both (her final speech is one for the ages).

Which leads into the final thing, a treatment of sex that’s so odd my wife, who’d barely been paying attention, noticed it. Every man in this movie is a sex-phobic prude, while the women are the ones initiating sex and acting super-horny all the time. Again, it’s entirely likely this is deliberate, and the fact it’s never explicitly mentioned is a classy move by a male filmmaker and male writer (that the producer was female might be of interest here).

There’s a lot to entertain the slasher movie enthusiast here. While it could easily be read as just another low-budget gore movie, there’s enough happening on the edges to convince you that these people ought to have been given a few more chances to make movies and see what they came up with. A weird, unsettling, minor classic of the genre.

Rating: thumbs up

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Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (1987)

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The difference between “Prom Night” and “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2” helpfully illustrates two of the main strands running through 80s horror and slasher cinema. Firstly, is the complete indifference to continuity. Originally titled “The Haunting Of Hamilton High”, and intended as a homage to horror/exploitation directors of the past (there are cast members with the surnames Carpenter, Romero, Craven, Waters, Henenlotter and Browning); the producers didn’t think much to it, so they reshot half. Then, the distributors Alliance Films retitled it to “build on the success of Prom Night”, you know, the sort-of popular movie from 7 years ago? It, of course, shares no cast*, crew or significant plot details with the first movie, aside from the name of the school – and it’s not like anyone says “hey, remember that slaughter we had at prom a few years ago?”

 

Secondly, is the evolution of the genre. “Prom Night” is (relatively) cheaply shot, with a cast of mostly amateur actors – see also “Hell Night”, “Final Exam” and most of the others of the era. The killer in all instances was a real flesh-and-blood person, but “A Nightmare On Elm Street” threw the doors open for horror movies to mess with reality, making it more “plastic”. This plastic reality, while not exploited to quite the same extent as Freddy Krueger did, is one of the many strands to this movie’s bow, along with a lot of psychological depth, with religious repression, a vaguely satirical anti-American message (from a Canadian movie) and what I think is a strong feminist undertone.

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Mary Lou Malone (Lisa Schrage) is a sexually active, hard-partying girl in 1957, which makes her a cross between the devil and Hitler to some people. I mean, okay, she goes over the top a bit, telling the Priest at confession that she sins all the time, loves doing it, and writes “for a good time call Mary Lou” along with her number on the wall of the booth; but her behaviour isn’t that bad. Anyway, she has a boyfriend, Billy, who she says “treats me right…and he’s rich”, but is unafraid to go and have sex behind the stage at Prom with Buddy, who she’s more sexually compatible with, and doesn’t seem bothered when Billy finds them. Okay, that behaviour is pretty bad.

 

Billy overhears a couple of kids who have a stink bomb but abandon it in a bin, so he takes it, sneaks up onto the gantry above the stage, and when Mary Lou has just been crowned, lights it and throws it down. Rather than doing whatever it is stink bombs are supposed to do, it sets everything on fire and kills poor Mary Lou, who sees Billy just as she dies and has revenge in her eyes.

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Fast-forward to the present day, and for some reason Mary Lou’s personal effects (including her old sash and crown, which did well to survive the fire) are locked in a chest in the theatre’s prop room. Our Final Girl, Vicki (Wendy Lyon) is trying to find a prom dress  – respect to her for not spending a fortune on one – but, in the one visual link to part 1, we are helpfully told via rapid cutting from one to the other that some of the characters were around back in 1957. There’s Buddy, who’s now a priest; and Billy, who’s the Principal of the school. Billy is played by Michael Ironside, who’s livened up many a movie with his super-intense bad guy portrayals, but here he’s a guy who appears to have successfully repressed the events of the past completely.

 

Fairly early on (certainly compared to part 1) Mary Lou comes back looking for revenge, thanks to Vicki’s best friend Jess, who we thought was gay but it turns out was looking sad because she was pregnant, prying a jewel from the tiara and releasing her spirit. Unlike the killer from part 1, Mary Lou appears to not give much of a damn who she kills, although she’s certainly got her eye on Billy and Buddy (not sure why she’s got a hate-on for Buddy, he did nothing other than have sex with her and try to put the fire out).

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I like that they made an effort with the background teenagers, as they’re not just the sort of bland pastel that most movies would have. There’s punks and skateboarders, heck, even a few black people! I also like bad girl Terri, who wants to be Prom Queen despite Vicki being a shoo-in (no idea why, she never seems all that popular); and her amazing boyfriend, who we christened Fabio Jr. Such flowing locks! But their evil is as nothing when Mary Lou decides that possessing Vicki is the way to go. She forces nightmares on her, including one amazing scene where she’s sucked into a blackboard, until eventually she’s ready to be taken over.

 

I mentioned there was an element of feminism here, and I think it’s to do with the repression of female sexuality. Mary Lou seems happy with her life, until she’s burned to death by a guy who wants her to behave like him; and then Vicki in the “present day” is controlled by a Bible-thumping mother who seems intent on her not being a sexual being at all. There’s a spot where the possessed Vicki kisses her own father and he responds – okay, it’s super-weird, but it’s showing how little human warmth is in that house, and so many others. There’s the sense that when Mary Lou takes her over, she’s pretty happy with the arrangement (with the possible exception of all the murdering).

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Or, you could see this as a crude rip-off of “The Exorcist”, which joins “Elm Street” and “Carrie” (for what happens at the Prom) as the three main inspirations. It goes a little off the rails at the end, admittedly, wearing its influences a little too obviously on its sleeve and giving us the traditional supernatural slasher cop-out of “she’s not really dead!”; and no-one seems all that surprised that Vicki murdered a bunch of people, then had Mary Lou tear herself out of her body, then mysteriously came back with no problems after everything…or that hundreds of people saw the Principal shoot his own daughter. But, dream-logic, I guess.

 

For a movie with an at times very light tone, there’s a lot of darkness to it, and a heck of a lot of fairly meaty stuff to chew on. Without wanting to give what might be a random joke by a set designer too much credit, Vicki’s bedroom has a copy of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” displayed prominently on the wall, which is not something a religiously controlled home in middle America is going to have even heard of, much less buy, frame and display. It’s a movie about subconscious desires and repression, dressed up like a cheesy 80s slasher.

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A quick word about a few decent-sized “That Guy / Gal” names who show up. Vicki’s boyfriend, as bland and ineffectual a man as has ever been put on screen, is Louis Ferrara, who was in “Breaking Bad” and “Stargate Universe” – this was the very beginning of his career and was probably his “break”. Also, as the weirdly-coiffed…teacher?…well, the guy who was organising the prom?…is John Pyper-Ferguson, from “Suits”, “The Last Ship” and just about every big TV show of the last decade. And, with links to our “Endless Bummer” season of largely Canadian-produced 80s sex comedies, Jess, the girl who dies near the beginning, is Beth Gondek, aka Candy Barr from “Screwballs 2”, aka the short-sighted girl who touched Bryan Genesse’s penis.

 

I really liked “Hello Mary Lou”, and think it’s well worth a critical renaissance. Perhaps they need to de-emphasise that it’s a horror sequel? And from my faulty memories, part 3 is more or less a comedy, so that doesn’t help the argument either. But this one is absolutely worth your time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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  • Weirdly, there’s one guy who appears in all four original Prom Night movies, as different characters, but I didn’t know who he was so I think we can dismiss him as the grand unifying thread.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

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I’m as surprised as you’re going to be, ISCFC readers, because the last in the “original” run for both Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is surprisingly decent. It really shouldn’t be – born from idiots on the early internet and “Fangoria” magazine seizing on the idea and running with it, the sort of thing that would be a meme these days instead of a movie.  But what it achieves is telling a fairly interesting story using both characters, has honest-no-fooling layers to it, with plenty of fine acting and gore too. But seriously, please read the rest of this review because I know I’ve totally given away my feelings in the first paragraph.

 

Although never mentioned, it seems like we’re being asked to ignore the last movie in both series. “Freddy’s Dead” finally, no twist at the end, kills Freddy off forever (and leaves Springwood a ghost town where all the kids are dead); and “Jason X” takes place in space 450 years in the future. I don’t think “New Nightmare” counts in this “universe” either, in case you’re already getting annoyed with me. Freddy is in hell, forgotten about, and is itching to get back into the teenager-slaughtering game; but he needs people to start remembering him so he has power, and to that end goes and finds Jason Voorhees and, pretending to be Jason’s mother, persuades him to resurrect himself and go to Springwood. Why Jason can just pop back into existence whenever he wants and Freddy can’t is sadly never explained. Even if, casting your mind back, Freddy didn’t need people to believe in him to start killing people in the first movie? Ah well, there’s worse plot holes in better movies. A few murders from Jason, people start talking Freddy again, and boom! He’s back in business. Or so the theory goes.

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Hearing Jason’s music play over a shot of 1428 Elm Street is, even for someone like me who hated most of one series and half the other, a pretty cool moment. Living at the old Elm Street house is Lori (Monica Keena), along with her widowed father; one boring weekend evening, she has her friends over, Kia, Gibb, Trey, and Blake (the women are the better-known of the group – Kia is singer Kelly Rowland and Gibb is Katharine Isabelle, from “Ginger Snaps”). Trey is every super-douchebag boyfriend cliché ever, and gets his first, being folded up the wrong way in a bed by Jason – the first of many excellent effects. There’s also Lori’s old boyfriend and his mate, who’ve been locked up in an asylum for four years, coming back to town to complicate matters.

 

“Freddy vs Jason” uses the cliché of “authority figures who don’t want to know” and for maybe the first time ever, does something clever with it. I won’t spoil it, because I think this one is worth watching, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The entire story of the non-supernatural-murderer people is solidly done, all round, which means you’re not just waiting round for the next teenager to get hacked to pieces or thrown about in their dreams – although there’s certainly that element to it. There comes a moment where Freddy is doing his thing with Gibb, but Jason kills her out in the real world before he can finish her off, and that brings their conflict to a head. Jason didn’t listen! He was only supposed to kill a few people! If you can’t trust an entirely mute monster of a man whose sole reason to exist is to murder people who enjoy sex, who can you trust?

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Director Ronny Yu is much better known for doing epic historical kung-fu movies in the Far East, and this represents the end of his dabbling with Hollywood. But he does get some lovely visuals in there, including the cornfield rave, a genuinely well-shot little moment, and the use of water to “imprison” Jason. For a slasher movie, it’s better than it has any right to be. Jason’s dream is quite clever too.

 

This was the first movie for writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who’ve since gone on to write the 2009 “Friday The 13th” reboot, and have their names attached to the new “Baywatch” movie (among others). I don’t want to get too excited about this, but I think there are people who just knock together whatever will do for the money, and there are people that realise even a probably terrible slasher movie can be used as a calling card, if it’s decent enough. Putting thought into something doesn’t cost extra – although it would have been nice if they’d watched the previous movies in both series, as there’s the odd thing I noticed, and I’m just some joe off the internet who likes horror.

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It’s not all fun and games, though. There’s a thing about Jason dying in water so Freddy traps him with it, as if he’s mortally afraid of it. The problem is, Jason was never really “afraid” of water  (he swims most of the way from Crystal Lake to New York in part 8, if you care to cast your mind back) so it smacks of a last-minute decision because they needed to extend the final fight a bit. And even after the attempt to bring Englund’s characterisation in “New Nightmare” back to something more genuinely terrifying, he’s the same old quip-spewing psycho here as he always was. In the age of the internet, the idea that blacking out a few newspaper reports will be enough to make people forget about him is strange – not one teenager ever looked on a “gross local news” website?

 

But after all that, I liked it! The final fight between the two titans of terror, the Gods of Gore, the super-slashers, the I-have-a-headache-and-can’t-think-of-any-more, is really well done; and Jason’s “characterisation” (from stuntman Ken Kirzinger, not long-time guy Kane Hodder) is deliberate, slow and as frightening as a slasher movie is going to get. Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot future “Lost” star Evangeline Lilly, back when she was a model who just did occasional extra work, as a high school student too.

 

Freddy’s complaint about being forgotten is a meta-reference and mirrors the vague feeling of embarrassment there’d be at making another straight “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie – and that “New Nightmare” was, relatively speaking, a box office failure. Freddy “needing” Jason plays into this too – much as I love it, the previous year’s “Jason X” performed worst of the lot at the box office, so it was both of them or neither of them.

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There’s also the fact that New Line Cinema, home of both franchises, originated Freddy whereas Jason was bought in. And Freddy can talk, which certainly makes him a more interesting character…saying that though, the thing is, this feels much more like a “Friday the 13th” movie with a guest appearance from Freddy than it does the reverse. The thing about Jason is (depending on how much you’ve thought about it, or at all), he’s a force of nature more than a person, so who cares about backstory or anything like that. He can be adapted, whereas Freddy needs dreams, teenagers, parents with secrets, etc. Plus, he loves torturing people before he kills them, whereas Jason definitely doesn’t, which is why Freddy only manages a measly one kill to Jason’s 15 or 16 (I lost count).

 

I suppose it’s easier to fit Freddy into a Jason movie? Or perhaps it was the on-set influence of producer Sean S Cunningham, aka the biggest hack in the modern history of the movies, who was apparently around more than “Freddy’s producer” Robert Shaye. Have I mentioned how little I like Cunningham? Oh yes, every chance I get. I also just found out that Ronny Yu was allowed to film the final fight (the only real reason anyone paid to watch this, surely) any way he liked, including picking the winner. The coda is the same old (literal) wink-wink, nothing’s-over crap we’ve had in so many slasher movies, but that shouldn’t spoil the rest.

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So, a movie that succeeds, with strong acting and a decent sense of humour, despite it’s occasionally hefty roadblocks. If you rank both franchises together, it’s definitely top 5, (along with Nightmares 1, 3 and 4, and Jason X), but if you’re seriously ranking slasher movies, then you might need to go and have a lie down and a nice cup of tea.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

Postscript! I’ve been thinking about the Freddy thing, and continuity. Let’s say the Freddy that we know dies at the end of part 3, with the destruction of his bones. The chap who pops up at the beginning of part 4 is different, a dream demon entity who’s borrowed Freddy’s face and feeds on fear (such as the people of Springwood have for Freddy). Actually, with the opening monologue from Freddy, using clips from the first three movies, this doesn’t work either. DAMMIT

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

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Part 4 is usually accepted as the moment this series started heading south in terms of quality. Well, those people are right, but the stuff which would become sort of unbearable in later movies is used well here, and the fact we’re watching yet another “whoops, we failed to kill the immortal indestructible baddie” movie is compensated for by a decent cast, and an occasionally excellent writer and director. I’m rather surprised they’ve all aged as well as they have, to be honest.

 

The one thing I’d forgotten about this one, though, is how long the cast from part 3 hang around. As aficionados of slasher cinema will know, if someone survives one of them, chances are you’ll see them getting killed in the first few minutes of the next – this is a classic of the “Halloween” sequels, for example. But Kristen (now played by the bet-she-regrets-that-name-now Tuesday Knight, as Patricia Arquette was pregnant), Kincaid and Joey make it to almost halfway, even as the editing and new characters lets us know they probably won’t be around at the end.

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Luckily, all three of the part 3 survivors are at the same high school, despite them not knowing each other before, and after an unspecified amount of time has passed (honestly, it could be a month since the end of part 3, or two years) Kristen starts having nightmares again, doing her trick of pulling Kincaid and Joey into them too. After Kincaid’s dog Jason (not the last in-joke in this movie) pees fire on Freddy’s gravesite, that’s all the encouragement our old friend needs to re-form his skeleton, pop his flesh back on, pick up his glove and hat and get back to doing what he does best. He does have an interesting wrinkle in this one, though, because there’s only three Elm Street kids left and he wants to carry on killing! I guess due to people still not knowing who the hell he is, he needs Kristen to bring in new people to her dreams, so Freddy can then go after them, and then their friends.

 

That brings in Alice (Lisa Wilcox), the sister of Kristen’s boyfriend Rick. Their Dad’s an alcoholic – although not because he had anything to do with torching Freddy, just because – and one gets the feeling their lives are sort-of dead end, even as teenagers. Anyway, the two of them team up when Kristen finally gets hers and they’re helped by a small group of friends, all of whom have a “thing”. We’ve got fitness nut Debbie (Brooke Theiss), nerd Sheila (Toy Newkirk, now much better known as a TV producer), and jock Dan (Danny Hassel), the eye candy for Alice. Oh, and Rick’s a martial artist too, which is sort of important. Although this uses the same idea as part 3, where people use their dream powers to fight Freddy, it’s spun in a new and interesting direction – after Alice is given Kristen’s “suck people into your dreams” power, she also gains personality traits and useful skills from her friends, after they die.

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The first enormous stroke of luck this movie got was hiring a young Renny Harlin to direct, pretty much fresh off the boat from Finland. This movie’s success got him “Die Hard 2” and then a decade or so of big-budget thrillers, even though a couple of big-budget flops in the late 90s (“Deep Blue Sea” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, both of which I loved) drove him from the A-list. Well, those flops and making rubbish like “Cliffhanger”, but you know what I mean. His skill is immediately apparent – the time-loop scene is a mini-masterpiece of editing, and while some of the dream sequences are a bit flat (the opening is all sound and fury, signifying nothing), I like the look of others. Plus, even if you’ve seen this movie before you can try and spot all the references to Finland and its Soviet past which Harlin slips into his movies – my wife spotted a book one of the high school kids was carrying, called “Soviet Psychiatry”.

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And the second was a future Oscar-winning screenwriter. Much like Full Moon Pictures got lucky and hired future “Dark Knight” scribe David S Goyer for their tiny-monster movies, New Line gave Brian Helgeland his first job. He wrote “LA Confidential”, “A Knight’s Tale”, and is no doubt about to win a ton more awards for writing and directing 2015’s “Legend”, the story of the Kray twins. He seems like a good guy (one of a tiny handful of people to voluntarily accept a Razzie award, to remind him of the quixotic nature of Hollywood), and given this movie has to have Freddy coming back from the “dead”, it’s done about as well as could be expected.

 

What “Dream Master” does have is a lot of touches that make you realise lots of smart people worked on it – New Line and producer Robert Shaye seemed to both listen to fans and be genuinely interested in making good movies, not just churning them out (although I’m sure they were helped by being very profitable). So there’s the time loop scene, the “Greetings From Hell” postcard, and the way Alice’s mirror is used as a metaphor for her increasing power and centrality to the movie – as she blossoms, you see more of her. When you’ve sat through entire slasher series where smartness is on the level of remembering a character’s name from one movie to the next, this stuff is important.

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I’m almost beginning to gush here, and writing about it has made me think more about it and realise just how much fun it was. Although I’ve not even talked about Freddy yet – Robert Englund is top-billed in this one and relishes every moment on screen, enjoying his work even if the quips are, if we’re being honest, pretty awful – “how’s this for a wet dream?” being the best/worst. As a further attempt to beef up Freddy’s powers and give him a reason for wanting to carry on killing kids, there’s a plot idea about using the power of dreams, and how there are gatekeepers to both the good and bad side of them. Freddy has clearly assumed the role of bad gatekeeper, although good gatekeeper appears to be vacant; and while I appreciate them trying to give the story that meat, it honestly feels a bit under-done. There was a writer’s strike at the time, meaning Helgeland was unavailable for rewrites, which might explain some of these oddities.

 

It’s a movie that succeeds despite itself. The basic structure had to be there – Freddy comes back from the dead and kills kids in their dreams – and it’s sort of “oh, this again?” if you think about it. But, two enormously talented people at the beginning of their careers chose to use this as a calling card and almost forced it into being a horror classic – it’s still miles ahead of just about every slasher movie you could name. With, essentially, two casts, some of the supporting people feel a smidge under-done, as there was no real reason to bring Kincaid and Joey back, or at the very least have them survive for the first five minutes. And they called the house “Freddy’s house”, when he never lived there. It’s Nancy’s house, dum-dums! But this is small potatoes. Oh god, part 5 is going to suck, isn’t it?

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Rating: thumbs up

 

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

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One of the most interesting things about the first three parts of this series is how they’re different. Take any of the main slasher franchises (excepting Halloween, as its part 3 was entirely unrelated to the other two movies, but you can use 1, 2 and 4 if you like) and they’re all set in largely the same place, with largely the same sort of people, and the first five to ten minutes of the sequels is spent getting the slasher back from the dead to continue his grim and endless work. What the “Nightmare” movies do is have Freddy do what he does best (murder kids) but change everything else. He’s the guilt of the parents in part 1, repressed homosexuality in part 2, and by part 3 even though he’s finishing off his work from part 1, he does it in a very different way, in a different location. And because he’s dead before the first movie even starts, you don’t have to worry about bringing him back – although those “twist” endings still suck, even here.

 

Also, thanks to the huge success of parts 1 and 2, a decent cast was affordable for part 3. Not only do we get a debuting Patricia Arquette, there’s Laurence Fishburne, returns from Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, plus the lovely Jennifer Rubin and a solid supporting cast. Additionally, Wes Craven returned to co-write the script, along with rewrites from a young Frank Darabont; but of course people turned out for Freddy, who in this movie finally becomes the wisecrack-spewing monster he would remain (at sometimes annoying length) for the rest of the series’ run.

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A group of kids with severe sleep disorders all wind up in the same rather gothic-looking hospital, under the supervision of Dr Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, as bland a leading man as ever was). Joining them is Kristen (Arquette), who starts building Nancy’s old house from parts 1 and 2 out of lollipop sticks and seeing Freddy in her dreams; her mother walks in on her slashing her own wrists, and off she goes. Even though the kids are all seeing the same thing, the two people in charge of their care – Dr Gordon and Dr Simms (Priscilla Pointer), seem convinced it’s just some group psychosis and as soon as they get a good night’s sleep, all will be well.

 

Luckily, there’s a saviour in the form of Nancy! Not only did she survive part 1, but she’s not dreaming any more, thanks to experimental drug Hypnocil. She’s old enough to have mental health qualifications of her own and she’s managed to get a job here, knowing what’s going on – as it’s not crucial to the movie at all, I don’t mind telling you that they’re the last of the “Elm Street children”, the kids of the people who killed Freddy (because he killed kids). Not only does she understand and believe them, but when she’s sucked into one of Kristen’s dreams by Kristen herself, she realises there’s something they can do to fight Freddy – embrace their dream personalities, where they’re strong or have superpowers. Not the worst idea in the world, certainly! We get a wizard (thanks to some of the kids playing D&D), a strongman, and Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) is a beautiful badass with a couple of knives – a difficult sell, given how gorgeous she was before, but I’ll allow it.

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I think the problem remains how little anyone seems to know about Freddy Krueger who, if you remember, killed 20 local kids while he was alive; and then showed up after he was dead and killed a few more (the pool party in part 2). Now, the thing about serial killers is they’re pretty famous – I’m sure most of us could name five off the tops of our heads – but Krueger is ignored or forgotten. No-one even suggests that the “group delusion” (which they were suffering from before they met) might have any basis in the reality of the famous local child murderer, who mysteriously disappeared.

 

This film deepens the backstory as well, if that’s your cup of tea, giving us an origin story for Freddy, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs”. Dear all other horror movies – that’s how you do it! Origin stories for villains are given movie franchises on their own these days, and they’re almost without exception dull as hell. A couple of lines from a mysterious Nun, and you’re set!

 

As the film progresses, the attitude of the staff – Simms especially – seems closer to that of a violent teacher than a mental health professional; they’re angry with the kids for not getting better immediately, they call people who commit suicide “losers”…if I was ever as bad at my job as they are at theirs, I’d expect to be sacked on the spot. Oh, and there’s the orderly who wants to give drugs to Taryn, who was hospitalised in part due to an overdose, just to complete the list of truly horrible staff.

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Freddy seems to be almost taunting the staff of the hospital into suspecting him, though. One kid is dream-teleported through a padlocked door and walked through the hospital up to the clocktower, where he’s dropped to his death; no-one even wonders how he did it. One unfortunate girl has her head rammed through a TV which a good five feet up, bolted to the wall – when she’s discovered, her feet are dangling off the ground. Quite how she got into that position on her own, and stayed there, is a matter of no interest to anyone, and I’m not 100% sure if the movie realises this and is messing with us, or just shot the deaths really badly.

 

What it shot great was the opening dream sequence, the sort of scene that nails the weird wooziness of a nightmare very well, and looks amazing too – the dressing of Nancy’s old house at 1428 Elm Street is perfect. For all its flaws, it’s really good looking, through and through.

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Even after saying all that, it is a really fun movie. The idea of using dreams as a weapon against Freddy is an interesting one – an idea which would be carried over into part 4, I seem to recall, but we’ll get to that later – and Freddy almost takes on a way more interesting role as the boogeyman for society’s ills. The acting is mostly top-notch, I care about the kids, and while the plot devolves into a poor episode of “Supernatural”- it’s all about laying Freddy’s bones to rest in hallowed ground – it’s still better thought out than almost every other slasher movie. My favourite of the series.

 

Rating: thumbs up

April Fool’s Day (1986)

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I’m not the world’s greatest movie reviewer. “What?” I hear you cry. “That time you mumbled on about Halloween Resurrection for nearly 2000 words was great though!” That’s very kind of you, dear reader, but I’m not; and I’m certainly not good enough to write about “April Fool’s Day” without spoiling something important. So here’s the deal – it’s a great movie, go and watch it. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed, with a few very limited exceptions it’s perhaps the best movie to have ever been lumped in with the slasher genre. Then come back here after you’ve done it and we can have a nice chat – of course, if you’ve already seen it, read on.

 

So, did you figure it out? The first time I watched it as a teenager, I was completely fooled right up to the reveal, but when you watch it for a second time they give you an absolute ton of clues that are just cleverly disguised as exposition. If you’ve been a very bad person and continued reading past this point, or don’t remember the details, the basic gist of things is Muffy St John (Deborah Foreman, who by rights should have had a fantastic career but stopped acting on screen in the mid 90s) has invited eight of her friends to spend spring break at her family’s huge mansion on an island somewhere near Martha’s Vineyard (“on a clear day, you can see the Kennedys”). Crucially, the eight don’t all know each other, and are from different parts of Muffy’s college life – study partners, drama club friends, ex-boyfriends – and the early part of the movie gets us to know these characters, while at the same time telling us everything we need to know about this magnificent movie.

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Anyway, the college kids play pranks on each other – fake knives, blood squibs, and all that – so you’re sure that the killer, when they’re revealed, will be deadly serious. It’s not like “My Bloody Valentine” is actually a romance film about faking a bunch of murders to get a date, right? (Although seriously, that would be an amazing idea for a movie – and if you want to see “trick the audience” done in the wrongest way possible, check out the 2009 “My Bloody Valentine” remake).

 

The weekend starts with an accident, so there are no boats on the island…then the pranks continue, but become less funny when people start disappearing. Who’s behind it all? Why has Muffy suddenly changed her clothing, hairstyle and personality? Will the Sheriff ever make it over to them? It’s the way it looks so much like it’s going to be your typical 80s slasher movie that makes it so rewarding, I think.

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Firstly, a note about the actors. It’s a rarity for an 80s horror movie to not have you grimacing about at least a few of the main characters, so it’s a real treat to have a small cast, all made up of people who nail their parts exactly. Most famous to us is Thomas F Wilson as Arch (you’ll recognise him from the “Back To The Future” movies); but there’s Amy Steel from “Friday the 13th Part 2”, and plenty of people who’ve had long careers in film and TV; even if a similar amount gave up on acting in the early 90s. Perhaps we ought to give credit to director Fred Walton (“When A Stranger Calls”) and writer Danilo Bach (the first “Beverly Hills Cop”) for the skilful mix of horror, suspense and comedy, and the cast of believable types.

 

Another thing, while I’m gushing with praise, is the way the movie looks. Slasher movies, and by extension 80s horror, barely ever bother with any of the art of cinema – they’ll just go “what’s the cheapest and easiest way we can get from murder A to murder B?” April Fool’s Day, on the other hand, features tons of little moments that make you realise someone was really making every effort on this – a character walks through a small pool of light on his way across a pitch-black deck, looking out over the lake, something as simple as a shot of a corridor…it’s perhaps easiest to say you only notice the “craft” of cinema by its absence, but after watching months of terrible slasher movies and summer raunch, you can really tell when someone knows what they’re doing. It appears cinematographer Charles Minsky used this as a calling card and went on to a long career (including filming “Pretty Woman”, among many others).

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Because nothing’s perfect, if you really think about it, and watch it a few times, there’s the odd problem that brings you slightly out of the movie. For instance, the Sheriff is called when the phone briefly works, and he’s at the hospital with the deckhand who was injured at the beginning of the movie. Except why would he be? And why would he look so serious? It’s there to trick us, obviously, but it probably ought to have been replaced with the fuzzy sound of him on the phone. And the post-movie coda doesn’t make a lick of sense. Anyway, small potatoes.

 

“April Fool’s Day” is mentioned briefly in the 2006 documentary “Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Movie”, and divides opinion. One former exec says he loved it, but others are less friendly, saying marketing what is effectively one long joke as a horror movie was a bad idea. What was a bad idea was making tons of terrible horror sequels and garbage slasher movies, but whatever. Good films, to movie execs = films that made money, nothing else.

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While the DVD is pretty bare-bones, it’s also $0.01 on Amazon (packaged with the original, half decent “My Bloody Valentine”) so it’s absolutely worth checking out. A classic of 80s horror, every bit as much fun the second time of watching as it is the first.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part 6 (1986)

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After my 500th review celebrations, I decided to get back to the great work of the ISCFC, which at the moment is to grimly trudge our way through yet another horror franchise…

…but then something weird happened. At the 6 minute mark, as Tommy (no longer the Jason-in-training that the end of part 5 would have us believe – yes, remarkably similar to “Halloween 5” – but a good guy) rams a steel rod through Jason’s desiccated corpse, lightning strikes it and miraculously Jason is brought back to life; and you realise all bets are off for the rest of this series. But this isn’t the weird thing – it’s that the filmmakers realise it too, and they want you to have a good time. The James Bond style opening credits sequence merely emphasises that point.

Imagine that! No-one’s trying to pretend that this might be the last movie in the series, or that there’s any rhyme or reason to the people who get brutally murdered. Writer-director Tom McLoughlin has made an honest-to-goodness funny movie, further establishing the comic bona fides of this franchise. Now, I’ve been extremely critical of the previous F13th movies for being cynical teen-death delivery systems, but when something else is going on (like some really well-crafted comedy) that’s a lot easier to take.

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Let’s do the plot. So, Jason is out of the grave and on his way back to Camp Crystal Lake. Tommy, who’s made it through three films and is approaching Dr. Loomis levels, realises this but gets arrested by the local Sheriff, who of course doesn’t believe that Voorhees is back. The Sheriff’s daughter is one of the camp counsellors at the all new Camp Crystal Lake (it has a new name, but I can’t be bothered to look it up), so we’ve got a group of fun teens, some actual real children at the summer camp, the Sheriff and his deputies, and a bunch of paintballers out in the woods to bring up the numbers.

There are two scenes I wanted to single out as evidence that this is (by a distance) the best movie in the series so far, and first up is the death of the drunk cemetery worker. It’s incredibly difficult to edit with comic timing, so when Jason grabs the whisky bottle from the drunk, pauses the perfect amount of time, smashes it and rams the end through the poor sap’s chest, everyone involved deserved huge praise. Secondly is towards the end, as the kids are hiding underneath the beds. Two boys realise that the monstrous mass murderer is going to work his way round to them at some point, and one of them says “so, what were you going to be when you grew up?” An absolutely fantastic line, very well delivered. Then there’s a heap of great visual references, like one of the pre-teen kids reading “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre, or the credit card from “American Excess”.

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I could go on. There are car chases in this movie! In one scene, the douchebag camp counsellor is driving a large RV while his girlfriend is getting murdered by Jason in the toilet. Because he’s a douchebag, rather than figuring out something might be wrong, he just shouts back “what are you doing back there, takin’ a shit?” There’s the film debut of Tony Goldwyn, who’d go on to be the baddie in “Ghost” and the President on “Scandal”. There’s the really clever “matching” scene change shots (like a shot of a guy with a steel arrow in his face will cut to a dartboard, and so on). In fact, I have gone on!

Kevin Williamson, writer of “Scream”, says this film was a huge influence on him, showing how you could do a comedy and slasher movie together and have neither of them suffer. I can’t disagree, and although the ending drags a bit, and feels like it’s from a more traditional slasher movie, I don’t think I’ve got anything to criticise about this movie. Jennifer Cooke, who plays the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan, is quite a spunky, modern-seeming woman (until the end), and it’s a shame she stopped acting after this; they picked some great kid actors; and apart from a dull Tommy (the guy from part 5 became a born-again Christian and didn’t want to return to the series) and a dull-ish Sheriff, the acting is top-notch too.

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I’m as surprised as you are, ISCFC readers. An unknown writer/director is given the reins to a pretty worthless horror franchise and absolutely nails it. Recommended with no problems at all.

Rating: thumbs up

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

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Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

 

Mark has been reviewing a lot of classic slasher films in recent weeks. It has inspired me to look at the remake of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’. I’m a sucker for masked horror villains, but there’s something extra sinister about a maniac running around with a burlap sack on his head. It’s a lot more terrifying than a hockey mask.

The original ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ is a cult favourite, and one of those horror films all the more terrifying because it is based on a true story. In a little American town called Texarkana, the Phantom killer murdered five people in 1946. The killer was never caught.

The great thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake is that it is able to directly reference both the 1976 original movie, and the murders which inspired that film in ’46. Cleverly there is a nod to a real life tradition of outdoor screenings of the film which occur on Halloween. The whole movie has a jerky, jittery retro feel which faithfully continues the lineage.

Texarkana is a traditional town which hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world, it is the kind of place where the majority of the town still attend meetings and the church is regularly full, particularly in light of a spate of murders which occur, reminding the town of what happened in 1946.

After a showing of the ’76 version of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ a young couple named Corey and Jami go to a secluded spot. The couple kiss and fumble before they are disturbed by what they think is a peeping Tom who is watching them from the bushes. They then see a man wearing a sack on his head. It’s the phantom killer! The couple lock the doors but it’s all to no avail as the phantom attacks. The phantom kills Corey and sends off Jami (Addison Timlin), to spread the message about what he has done.

Addison Timlin is good as the plucky & resourceful scream queen who overcomes her trauma by trying to connect the dots between who killed Corey and who was behind the murders in 1946. Jami is a strong young woman who is determined to make the use of our second chance in life. In many ways she is portrayed like a cross between the characters of Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers in ‘Scream 2’. What I mean by this is that there is an element of poise in her character, and not your typical helpless pretty girl frantically running away from the murderer.

The gore of the film is wonderfully overdone, blood sprays all over the place as the Phantom continues to prey on young couples. The Phantom, and indeed this film is rather progressive, there is even a couple of gay men who are brutally slain in a scrapyard. This scene, perhaps overshadowed by the violent use of a trombone, should not be overlooked. It is progressive in the sense that it acknowledges that Texarkana, and in a wider sense horror movies, are not just populated by heterosexuals.

It is great also to see a horror movie with a well-developed supporting cast and not just nameless victims. Newspaper archivist Nick (Travis Tope), a cynical veteran policeman played by Gary Cole, the son of the director who made the ’76 film Charles B. Pierce Jr (Denis O’Hare) and Anthony Anderson as Lone Wolf Morales all add so much to the film. It’s also not entirely obvious who the Phantom is, with a host of possible suspects, and this makes the big reveal a genuine shock. Though I felt the reveal was a bit of a rush job, it’s a minor gripe about an otherwise gripping retro flavoured slasher movie.

– RJW

7/10

 

 

The Town That Dreaded Sundown on IMDB